Friday, October 16, 2009

The Lobsterman

I shared a cab this week with a couple. For the life of me, I could not figure out what their accent was. I figured Scandinavia. I was wrong. They were from from Pubnico, Nova Scotia, a small fishing village of 1800 people where the main industry (the only one maybe from the way it sounded) is fishing. This man and his wife (or maybe his girlfriend) owns one of the 120 boats allowed to bring in lobsters and in the off-season, he and Sheila (the wife or maybe girlfriend) are actors in the living historical village.

Pubnico is an Acadian village and evidently square one for any Acadian who wants to do genealogical research. The fisherman can trace his family back 11 generations - back to 1651 when the first of his ancestors came to Pubnico from France. I also learned that the French spoken by Acadians in Nova Scotia is more simliar to the French spoken by the Acadians in Lousiana than it is to the French spoken in Montreal or France. That was surprising, especially after all of this time since their expulsion from Acadia.

I asked if, given his profession, if he still enjoyed eating fish. From their enthusiastic answer, I'm pretty sure that's all they eat. He only fishes for lobster, but evidently some of the other crews also go out for the "fin fish" like haddock and herring. And, for anyone wondering, the lobster season opens the last Monday in November. And it's an expensive business to get into. There are only 120 boat licenses (similar to cab medallions), but when one becomes available, these days the cost is between six and seven hundred thousand dollars. And that's down from one point two million a few years ago.

The season is split into two halves, separated by the time when the water chills too much for the lobsters (maybe between January and March, but I can't exactly remember). And in the spring half of the season, they have to throw back 90% of their catch because they are either too small, females with eggs or other reasons that they probably told me but I didn't understand.

Their town has no four lane roads, they leave their keys in the car ignition, and they never lock their house because they're not sure what happened to the keys. DC is a relatively small city and they were still fairly overwhelmed. Which is understandable given that we were in rush hour traffic on the beltway.

One of the things this guy told me was that he'd been to Peoria, Illinois. I couldn't imagine how that might have come about, so I asked him. It turns out he'd purchased a $65,000 engine from Catepillar and either he'd won a trip to see the factory or that's part of what you get when you buy a big expensive engine. He thought the plant was interesting, and that the steak in Central Illinois tasted what steak should taste like, similar to what lobster tastes like straight off the boat. Given that I'm a kosher fish-eating vegetarian, I could only imagine that it's the same as eating tomatoes that you've grown in your garden. But probably not.

I think before this cab ride, the only thing I may have known about the lobster industry was a few minutes on Dirty Jobs. And then today, in the New York Times, an article about the Nova Scotia, haddock and the great expulsion.

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